What is forensic psychology?

June 19, 2017

Forensic psychology is a specialty within clinical psychology. Forensic psychology practitioners apply their expertise in psychology to civil and criminal legal matters.

They may testify in court or work in corrections. They may conduct evaluations of individuals for the courts or serve as consultants aiding trial attorneys in private practice. Some are even employed by law-enforcement agencies as first responders.

Here, Bethany Lohr, PhD, LP, faculty chair in Capella University’s Harold Abel School of Social and Behavioral Sciences Department of Psychology, talks about the challenges and rewards that come with choosing a career in forensic psychology.

Q. Why is forensic psychology a growing field?

             A. Forensic psychology is a field that’s expanding as many court systems acknowledge the positive impact of psychology on the various branches of the legal system. Its value can be seen in everything from competency examinations before criminal trials to counseling that may help reduce recidivism after criminals have been released from jail, prison, or a halfway house.

Q. What are the forensic psychology education requirements?

             A. Usually, a master’s degree or doctorate is required to practice forensic psychology professionally*. The discipline requires broad exposure to the field of clinical psychology as well as a specific focus on psychology and the law. Practitioners are exposed to techniques in forensic practice and learn about issues and trends in forensic psychology.
Many states require individuals to apply for and obtain a license to practice forensic psychology. You might need a license to testify in court or to work with inmates, for example, but there are exceptions. Individuals working with attorneys in private practice are almost always required to get a license, however.

Q. Capella offers a master’s in clinical psychology, forensic psychology degree. Can you tell us more about this program?

             A. Capella’s forensic psychology master’s degree introduces students to advanced psychological concepts and theories, helps them develop analytical, statistical, and evaluation skills, and gives them an in-depth understanding of our legal system and the roles forensic psychologists play within it.
Students learn about trends in criminal behavior using research and evidence-based practices that take into account cultural and social diversity. They also learn to use psychology in an ethical, academically informed, and research-based manner. Our master’s program prepares students for jobs in the field or for doctoral level study, whichever they choose to pursue.
We also offer students in our bachelor’s in psychology program the option to add a concentration in Forensic Psychology, which will give them an introduction to the field.

Q. Speaking of jobs in the field, what careers should someone who’s interested in a forensic psychology master’s degree consider exploring?

        A. Related job titles** to explore include:
  • Forensic researcher
  • Forensic case worker
  • Forensic analyst
  • Adjunct or part-time faculty
Related employment settings to explore include:
  • Federal, state, and municipal government agencies, including Department of Corrections, Department of Probation, and parole courts
  • Self-employed, contract with attorneys
  • Land-based or online college or university

Learn more about Capella’s Bachelor’s in Psychology (which offers an optional concentration in Forensic Psychology) and Master of Science in Clinical Psychology, forensic psychology programs.

*This specialization does not prepare graduates for licensure as a psychologist, counselor, or therapist. 

**Career outcomes depend on a variety of factors besides educational background. Capella does not guarantee its learners will receive a job, promotion, or other career advancement.

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